Saturday, August 22, 2015

Laser Maze™ Jr. – from Thinkfun!

   In February of this year I posted a review of Robot Turtles, a board game from the Thinkfun® company that introduces important computer programming concepts to the very young. That post is one of the most viewed posts on this blog. Here is the link to that post in case you missed it.
   As is evident from the box cover, this post is a review of another game from Thinkfun® called Laser Maze™Jr.
   As I unpacked the game for the first time, I was impressed with the excellent design and the quality of construction of the plastic game base and the mirror pieces. I also like the fact that the Laser is built into the base and can’t be removed. This will keep it from being used for other purposes.
   The designers also paid attention to the small details that make a difference. Like the small rubber pads on the bottom four corners of the plastic base to keep it from sliding around on a smooth surface. And I really appreciate that the small screw on the battery cover is locked into the cover plate so that it can’t fall to the floor where the small-part gremlins quickly hide it in an inaccessible spot (like under the fridge).
   A full-color Instruction & Solutions manual is packed with the game, is easy to read, and within minutes I was trying solve one of the Challenge problems.

   The sturdy plastic base has a 5 by 5 grid of raised squares that lock and hold the game pieces in place. Slide one of the double-sided Challenge cards into a slot under the clear grid and you’re ready to play.
   The game pieces are sturdy and will survive the occasional rough handling kids will give them.
   I’ve drawn top views of the pieces so that you can see how the Laser beam interacts with the different types of pieces.
   The red-based Rocket Targets light up when the laser beam enters the elongated red face of the piece.
   The purple-based Satellite Mirrors reflect the incoming Laser beam 90º.
   The green-based Beam Splitter splits the incoming Laser beam into a beam that travels straight through the piece and another beam that reflects at 90º.
   The grey-based Space Rocks block the Laser beam from all four directions.
   There are 20 Challenge Cards with a different challenge printed on both sides of each card for a total of 40 Challenges. The division of difficulty levels is shown below.
   10 Green Cards – Easy
   10 Orange Cards – Medium
   10 Blue Cards– Hard
   10 Red Cards – Super Hard
  To illustrate how the game plays, I will solve Challenge Number 9. I’ve reproduced the card below. The card slides into a slot located under the raised grid so that what's printed on the card is visible through the clear plastic base.
   Along the upper left edge of the card is a red triangle that indicates the position of the Laser. In the lower right corner of the grid are two Rocket Target illustrations. Place a Rocket Target piece over the illustration of each Rocket Target on the card. Be sure that the elongated red window in each target matches the direction shown in the illustrations.
   At the bottom left corner of the card is the type and number of game pieces the player is to ADD TO the GRID. For Challenge 9, the player is to place the beam splitter and one satellite mirror onto the grid. To count as a solution, every piece on the grid, with the exception of the Space Rocks, must interact with the Laser beam.
   At the bottom right corner of the card is the difficulty level and the Challenge number.
   That’s it! You now know all you need to know to help the kids work through the other 39 Challenges.
   Here’s a tip for the adults. Remove the Instructions and Solutions booklet from the box. Show the kids how to play the game. When they get stuck, refer to the solutions booklet, look at the game board, and give them a hint, not a solution!
   Thinkfun® recommends Laser Maze™ Jr. for ages 6 and older. Older includes myself as I find the Hard and Super Hard Challenges interesting and fun to solve.
   If parents, grandparents, and kids enjoy Laser Maze™Jr., Thinkfun®  also offers the Laser Maze™Beam-Bending Logic Game for ages 8 and older.
   In my opinion, this game is one that should be in every household that has elementary school children. Grand kids Asher, Kate, John, and Andrew will love this game.
   As an educator, I would like to point out that Laser Maze™Jr. and similar games promote the build, test, debug, loop that if applied with persistence, usually solves a problem. This is in direct contrast to the standard question-to-single-answer process that occupies most of a student’s day at school. In other words, the build, test, debug loop is what problem-solvers do. 
   Here's one last plus for the game. Every parent that has travelled the highways with youngsters has heard from the back seat the “Are we there yet?” question. The locked-block design of the game board and pieces makes the game pieces resistant to the jostling of the car or van. This makes the Laser Maze™ Jr. a great game to pack when taking kids on the road. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

King's Quest – A Computer Adventure Game

   Back during the days of the Apple IIe, Sierra software published an adventure game called King's Quest. Those were the days of pixilated graphics and 8-bit sound. The game was a top-seller and I remember playing it.  
   Sierra has given developers The Odd Gentlemen the joyful task of adding to the King's Quest story. The Odd Gentlemen have just released the first of five new episodes in the story. All five episodes are narrated by Graham, the aging King of Daventry, as he relives his adventures by telling them to his granddaughter Gwendolyn.
   In Episode 1, the King tells how he began his quest as a good-hearted but bumbling young man determined to become a Knight. He leaves home to go to the court at Daventry to compete with four other knights for a position at the King’s court. 
   His adventures in besting the other four contestants (they are already knights) is the theme of Episode 1. The knights compete in events that test strength, wit, and speed.
   It’s a fun story told with wit, and filled with lots of interesting characters, each with a humorous idiosyncrasy. For example, there are three bridge trolls that each carry a bridge on their back. They respond to blasts on a horn and move to place their bridge across a gap so that Graham can move from one locale to another.
   The graphics are gorgeous and draw you into the story and the animation of Graham is fluid and helps develop his character. I was especially fond of watching Graham try to catch a frog as the animation wonderfully captured the movement of a klutz. 
   It’s an adventure game so the player uses the WASD keys to move Graham around and the space bar to pick up objects. Graham carries objects in a specially designed cape sewn for him by his mother. It will hold objects as big as a giant pumpkin he will need to traverse dark places.  
   As is true in any adventure game, Graham, has to find specific objects to achieve specific results. There is no real violence in the game as the characters interact through slapstick animations that draw laughs.
   The puzzles are not too difficult and fun to solve as when a bridge troll asks for something big and sweet to eat, you might want to visit the Bakery.
   There are a few quick-time events where you have to press the W, A, S, or D keys to guide Graham as he careens down a river on a raft to escape a dragon, step across stones, climb walls, and to navigate through other perils.  
  King’s Quest is game that will entertain adults as well as youngster. I think the game works best if the kids play with mom, dad, or a grand parent. The older one can watch the kids navigate around Daventry and be there to help solve a puzzle like getting the Magic Mirror from under a dragon. The game is much like many of the movies made for kids in that there is something in the telling of the story for adults to enjoy too.
   I purchased the game on Steam for the grand kids Asher, Kate, Emma, John, and Andrew knowing they will find the story exciting, the graphics beautifully drawn, the music excellent, and the problems engaging and relatively easy to solve by simply being persistent.
   Of all the computer games I've played with the grand kids, Machinarium is my favorite. I reviewed and recommended this game in 2009. Here's the link to the post.
   King's Quest Episode 1 has now knocked Machinarium out of first place. I look forward to the release of Episode 2 trusting that the developers will deliver another great game for grandadscience and the grand kids to enjoy.